Where did we get the idea that to get children to do better, we have to make them feel worse? I was reminded recently of this line from the book Positive Parenting. I have been giving a lot of thought to this concept of ‘logical consequence’.
For a long time I have advocated for this approach. Logical or natural consequences are respectful and related. They illustrate what will happen when one course of action is pursued. That’s fine, and if it’s a teaching moment that results, so much the better. It’s true, if you spend 20 minutes dinking around about putting on shoes before walking to the park, there will be less time to play when you get there. Simple, straight forward…no blame, no shame. It just is.
The thing is, I hear many more instances where the word consequence is used in a way that is little more than thinly veiled punishment. Most of us try to spin it so it sounds at least somewhat ‘logical’, but sometimes not even. So what, you say? Some situations call for a little more stick than carrot, right? Maybe. But I go back to the quote at the beginning of this post. Is feeling bad a necessary prerequisite to learning?
The other really big piece that is missing from all of this so far is the SOLUTION. Even when the consequence is natural, gentle and obvious, you have missed more than half of the teaching opportunity if you don’t have a conversation about how to do it differently next time. This has been one of my great revelations as I watch the school community write the rules each year. They are, by definition, coming up with the beginnings of solutions. Sometimes the solution is pretty authoritarian (NO bonking) and some are more subjective (Ask before pouring sand on someone) but whatever the angle, it has a consensus of agreement before adopting it, so there was a certain amount of discussion and reflection before settling on a rule that all could abide by.
The whole exercise is less about making a million rules for the school and far more about noticing and being conscious of the problem, how it effects self and others, and what can be done differently to avoid the problem in the future. As time goes by and the kids and relationships become more sophisticated, the process naturally transitions from just stating lots of totalitarian boundaries to being more about problem solving in the moment, the give and take of each individual circumstance so that all the players feel OK with the outcome.
During recent conversations with families and teachers there is a unanimous sense that there is a different vibe at school. More of a consciousness, better communication and, dare I say…a little more zen. I said a little.